He began by telling me that he paints nails - as in finger nails. This is all well and fine, but not something you expect to hear from an unkempt, middle-aged man with a mustache and secondhand Redskin's sweat shirt. This was to be one of many surprises. I asked where he got this interest from. He told me about some instance where he found himself in a salon surrounded by "thousands" of bottles of nail polish. He saw these nails being painted. He liked it. He thought, "I could do that." and vowed to learn. "I have 'Champagne Charade Pink' at home", He said without an inkling of femininity or humor to his voice.
"Wow. I like dark colors a lot." I said. (I often find I can self-indulge in conversations with the people I work with that I just can't have with anyone else, the same way I can sing completely uninhibited in the car with the people I work with. This is much to their dismay. I'm sure.) "I'll show you." I took off my gloves. "See? It's Purple. It looks black, but it's actually purple."
"You know one thing you are definitely doing wrong?" He rebuked. I was concerned he noticed the way I painted outside the lines. "What?"
"Do you have the top coat on?"
"Oh. Nevermind. I was thinking I might like to go to beautician school some day."
I imagined a 20-something trend setting woman coming to him for all her beauty needs. It seemed like my dream of training my pet frog to be a kung-fu master ninja that would rob a candy store, drive the get away car and give me the booty. Improbable, but awesome. Who am I to stifle dreams? Nobody.
"That sounds great." I said.
We continued on the ride to the appointment talking about this and that - things we liked and didn't like. He sipped his small Dunkin Donuts coffee and I gulped my large Starbucks.
"I've worked for the grocery store for 21 years. And next year I get 4 more vacation days."
"Wow. How many do you have now?"
"What do you like to do on those vacations."
"Oh, read and go to the Y."
"What do you read?"
"Right now? I'm reading 'The Great War: 1914-1918'"
I knew this was true. I had seen it on the floor through the crack in his apartment door while he made me wait outside for him. It was book marked mid-way through. He shared with me about various battles and wars on our ride.
"I know one thing. I don't believe we should be in Iraq." He scoffed. It is one thing to digest, retain and regurgitate mass volumes on history. It is another to understand the complexities of current world affairs and tout observations. I was intrigued. "Why do you believe that?" I asked. "I think we have to let the Iraqi's solve their own problems. It'll be another Dien Bien Phu (For those of you not up on your history see the link for Wikipedia.). And if we keep having casualties over there, were not going to have an army."
"Dien Bien Phu? Where was that fought?" I embarrassingly asked.
By this point we'd made it back to his house from the appointment. He had to go in, change his shirt and come back to the car so I could take him to work. I made him promise me he'd tell me all about that battle when he came back. He did. He recited his knowledge with the poise of a grade school student. "Okay. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was...", He began.
As he divulged his explanation I was awestruck at his insight. Was his point debatable? Absolutely. The point was not that it was fault proof or whether he was right or wrong, but that he had a well founded opinion. No. Furthermore, he had a well educated opinion based on the solid grounding of history itself. He reached back in time for a reference that was not only applicable to the current situation, but strikingly intuitive to our future situation in Iraq. In a world full of people who ignorantly scream, "I say 'Blow 'em all up'.", "No. We can't 'cut and run." or "We have to get out now.", he connects a complex tie between two points in history to make an educated and informed decision. Yet, society say he's the mentally challenged one.